Yvette Cantu Schneider has one of the most robust pedigrees of anyone who has ever worked in the so-called "ex-gay" movement. From the late nineties right through to the second decade of the twenty-first century, Yvette managed to find herself laboring for and with just about every top anti-LGBT group and activist you've heard of. From her high-profile start at the Family Research Council to her work with California's Proposition 8 campaign—with many stops, at many different groups and campaigns along the way—Yvette became one of that movement's most visible faces and certainly one of the most known women in a line of "work" known mainly for its male spokespeople.
To this day, Yvette remains one of the key people who anti-gay voices like to cite in order to prove that "change" works. In a December 19, 2013, press release concerning the Duck Dynasty brouhaha, notorious anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera, who was a colleague of Yvette's during their shared time at the Family Research Council, cited Schnieder as an example of a person who has "ovecome homosexuality through faith in Jesus Christ." "Ex-gay" websites continue to list her as among their ranks and push her story as a source of inspiration. The American Family Association continues to sell a video, "It's Not Gay," in which Yvette appears as a talking head. They all still claim Yvette as being both an example and a worker bee for their side.
That all changes today. Yvette has reached out to GLAAD, exclusively, to share her story—one that will come as a shock to her former colleagues and allies.
In a nutshell: Yvette no longer wishes to identify with the "ex-gay" or anti-LGBT movement; is sorry for the pain she caused as part of that world; is highly questioning of the idea of "ex-gay" itself; and is now fully supportive of LGBT people, our truths, and our families. Yvette has made her sincerity clear to me, saying "as opposed to when I was doing things for the Christian Right out of duty and obligation, I'm doing it because I want to and feel it's the right thing to do." She hopes that by speaking out, she can start to undo any damage she might've helped to impart.
This will be a two-part post. In this first part, we have asked Yvette to share some thoughts in her own words. In the second part, we have a lengthy Q&A with Yvette that gets into the nitty gritty about the movement she knows so well, the questions that arose within her and when, her views on whether or not anyone really ever "changes" (self included), and what she would say to anyone she hurt.
Without further ado, here is part one.
Finding My True Self
by Yvette Cantu Schneider
I pulled my suitcase down the windowless corridor of the airport. My heart raced as torrents of adrenaline flowed through my body. I felt faint and nauseated, like I could puke at any moment. I stopped halfway down the hallway and dug through my backpack, hands shaking, for the unused Xanax my doctor had prescribed a year earlier, when I had first experienced paralyzing anxiety. I quickly swallowed the pill and checked in for my flight.
That evening was the Fine Line event in support of Proposition 8 at The Rock Church in San Diego. It would be simulcast to churches across California in an attempt to sway the God-loving, church-going faithful to vote for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and woman. I was a panelist; the token “ex-gay” spokesperson, chosen to vouch for the evangelical Christian belief that while people may not choose to be gay, they can certainly choose not to stay gay.
Every detail of the event had been pre-planned and rehearsed. The texts, phone calls, and emails from viewers and attendees asking questions were actually written and recorded in advance by those of us who would serve on the panel. But for some reason, as the event drew near, I couldn’t shake the nerves. My heart wasn’t in this event; deep down I knew I didn’t belong here. But I played my part, and delivered my lines.
When the event ended, I stood in the lobby waiting for my ride back to the hotel. A line of people formed to ask me questions. One young woman in her early twenties approached me and said, "Can you help me?" She hesitated, and couldn’t continue. "It's okay," I assured her. "I don't know how to say this." She looked away then down at the Bible she clutched in both hands. "My dad is leaving the family. He says he's gay." Her eyes filled with tears. "I don't know what to do."
This young woman adored her father, and wanted things in their household to remain as they had always been. She feared that the advent of gay marriage would ruin any chance of her father staying with the family. I told her she didn’t have the power to change anyone; no one does. The best she could do was to love and spend time with her father. He was still the same man she had always known and loved. As she sobbed over the breakup of her parents and family, an errant thought darted through my head: If we as a society didn't condemn homosexuality, gay people wouldn't feel pressured into marrying heterosexually, against their true attractions, and families wouldn't be torn apart when the gay spouse could no longer continue the ruse. I had seen a number of gay Christians marry an opposite sex partner, only to leave when they couldn't pretend any longer. It wasn't fair to the spouse, the kids, or themselves. My doubts about the efficacy of change and the evangelical Christian stance against gay rights of any kind nagged at me.
I had entered the Church and become a Christian for a sense of community, to belong to a family that would love and accept me unconditionally, the way Jesus did. I was told, along with everyone else, that I would be used by God to accomplish His purposes, that my life would have purpose and meaning. If I played by the rules. When I developed feelings for a female friend at church, a superior pulled me aside and said that my roommates sensed this attraction, and it would be better, according to the Bible, for a millstone to be hung around my neck and for me to be flung into the sea (Matthew 18:6 NIV). I quickly learned to toe the line.
Five months after Proposition 8 passed in California, my five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. During the month she spent as an inpatient at Oakland Children's Hospital, I suffered from tremendous anxiety, punctuated by debilitating panic attacks. When my daughter was released from the hospital, I sought help from Dr. Diana Wright, a respected psychologist. She said to me, "Anxiety is the result of a threat you fear will overtake you. It's a limbic response to a predator--in this case, your daughter's cancer--which will cause you to fight, flee, or freeze. But that's not the only cause of anxiety; it can also arise when you are living incongruously from your true self, when you're living according to someone else's expectations of you and not according to who you really are. I have a feeling this isn’t your first experience with anxiety; you’ve likely experienced it your whole life."
Dr. Wright taught me to manage my limbic responses through mindfulness meditation, and a form of guided imagery meditation used by combat troops who suffer from PTSD. As I became more adept at meditating, goddesses and other female images appeared. It was clear I had neglected the feminine and the feminine divine when I embraced patriarchal dogma that regarded women as secondary to men. I spent the next few years digging deep within my soul to unearth my true self--the authentic me who celebrates the worthiness and equality of all people. The me who knows we all deserve to be who we are, not who others want and expect us to be. It was only when I embraced this true self that I regained my life. It meant shedding many of the beliefs I had espoused for decades—beliefs about what it means to be gay, and what it means to treat people with dignity and respect.
This change has cost me friendships and the respect of certain people. But that’s okay. I don’t expect everyone to understand my journey. One thing is for sure: Never again will I deny my authentic self in order to gain the approval and acceptance of others. It isn’t worth it.
*UPDATE, 7/29: The Q & A is now available here!
**Also be sure to check out Yvette's powerful new book, Never Not Broken: A Journey of Unbridled Transformation. Yvette is donating 10% of the profits from her book sales to GLAAD.